UEA study finds people with dementia are more likely to go missing in areas with 'complicated roads'

Researchers looked at 210 police records of people with dementia going missing in Norfolk. Credit: PA

A new study by the University of East Anglia has found people with dementia are more likely to go missing in areas with "complicated, dense or disordered roads."

Researchers looked at hundreds of 'missing person' police reports in Norfolk over three years and compared each case to the surrounding road network, to find out whether the design of road networks could be linked to people going missing.

“We know that people with dementia have difficulty navigating so we wanted to see whether there was a relationship between people going missing and the outdoor environment they went missing from" Vaisakh Puthusseryppady, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said.

“We were particularly interested in road layouts as they determine significantly our navigation, in particular the complexity of the road network, the complexity of road intersections, and how ordered the overall layout of the road network is.

“We found that the higher the density of road intersections, the more complicated the road intersections are, and the less ordered or less grid-like the overall road network layout, the greater the risk for people with dementia to get lost.

“We think this is because each road intersection represents a point at which a person needs to make a critical navigation decision. The more intersections there are, the more complex these intersections are, and the more disorganised the overall road network is - the bigger the problem for people with dementia.

“This is because these factors can make it more likely for people with dementia to make an error and make a wrong turn, causing them to get lost and go missing.

It's hoped the findings could help inform future safeguarding guidelines.

Researchers hope the study will help identify or predict areas where people with dementia may be at higher risk and contribute to the development of safeguarding guidelines.

“People with dementia getting lost or going missing is a problem worldwide", Prof Michael Hornberger, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said.

"Around 70 percent of people with dementia may go missing at least once, with some at risk of going missing multiple times.

“Unfortunately, the first event when people with dementia go missing comes completely out of the blue, when doing such routine activities as going for a walk with the dog or getting the newspaper from the local shop.

“When a person with dementia goes missing, it can have life-threatening consequences. But very little is known about what actually causes people with dementia to go missing.”